Retiring Old Shoes

old_shoes_001Does every runner remembers their first pair of shoes? For me it was the Brooks Defyance 4 – a pair I picked up last October after a visit to a local Jack Rabbit store. I had struggled for a few months with a couple of different pairs of shoes, but never felt as though I was getting the right level of support from them. I had passed the store one day and read on their website that they gave consultations to runners by looking at gait and pronation to determine the best set of shoes. In my case, my over-pronation and slightly excessive motion meant that I needed something with plenty of support. The sales associate recommended these shoes and after only a couple of runs I began to feel a significant difference in my legs and knees.From October through March, these shoes clocked up a total of 380 miles culminating in the New York City Half-Marathon last weekend.

I was so happy with these shoes that, a couple of weeks ago I went to Brooks web site and purchased two more pairs. Unfortunately, Brooks are no longer making these shoes having recently launched a new version of the shoe. I realize at some point I’ll have to find a new shoe but for now, at least, I have two new pairs that should last me through the summer and my marathon preparations.

NYC Half-Marathon

2012_nyc_half_001And so the day finally arrived. It started as a personal challenge to myself, and began in early January with some research and a commitment to see it through to the end. Over the following months I logged many training sessions and hundreds of miles in an effort to complete my first serious distance race and it was all over in less than two hours. The physical preparation I put in payed off in spades as I managed to meet and exceed my best expectations. What I was not ready for was the emotion that would overpower me as I took that last corner onto Water St. and caught sight of the finish line for the first time.

Step back a couple of hours to earlier that morning, and all my preparations were complete. I woke early, went through my race day routine, and left my house on time. Standing in the corral for almost an hour, I managed to keep my anxiety and excitement in check. The race began on time, but it took almost 30 minutes for me to reach the actual start line. It was a strange feeling to be approaching the start at the same time that the race leaders were completing their lap of the park.

The first mile or so was a little slower than I expected, having to navigate crowded roads and a slow moving field. I think I passed the mile marker in something like 9:30 – almost half a minute outside my normal training time and almost a minute outside my target that day. However, from that point I started to move a bit faster and notched the next few miles in under nine minutes each. I completed my first 5K split in 27:12 – remarkably, four and a half minutes faster than my very first race in July, 2011. I put my recovery from the slow start down to two factors; my familiarity with the course based on all my training runs, and seeing Jess cheer me on between mile two and mile three.

The next segment of the race went quite well, as I passed the 10K split at 54:32. I was happy to see that I was keeping a consistent pace (27:20 for 5K) and I was making good progress through the field having started so far back. Physically I felt fine, my knees were holding up to the challenge thanks to all the rest over the previous week. Mentally, I was encouraged by passing so many people (almost a 6:1 ratio) and seeing Jess again along the 7th Ave stretch.

The real challenge came in the third segment, as the course turned from a nice downhill stretch along 42nd St to the south side of the West Side Highway. This was a completely new route for me, and I could feel my legs running slightly heavier on the concrete road in comparison to the blacktop in the park. Despite the struggles, I managed to maintain my pace and passed the 15K split at 1:21:05 (26:33 for 5K). Although I had harbored dreams of finishing in under two hours throughout my training, it was really only this point that those dreams began to seem like a reality. My pace was good, and I was taking short walking breaks of 30 seconds or so at every other water station. To keep my mind busy, I kept recalculating my finish time as I checked off each mile marker. Each time I recalculated the time, I got an extra shot of motivation to keep going.

The last segment was especially hard as I began to feel the full effects of my endeavor, but I kept going – taking strength from the thought of crossing the line and the joy of my fellow runners as they whooped and raised hell in the tunnel under Battery Park. I passed the 20K marker at 1:48:17 (27:12 for 5K), the same split as my first 5K. In my mind I knew I had trained well and was in good physically shape to complete the distance in my target time. As we exited the tunnel and took the service road under the FDR and onto Old Slip, I began to feel overwhelmed by the noise from the crowd. Turning the last corner onto Water St., the sights and sounds really sank in and I felt my lower lip tremble and my eyes start to water. The crowd was relentless in their cheering, fully understanding the sacrifices they made to get to that point. Jess was there too – supporting me throughout my efforts. Crossing the line with very little left in the tank, I stopped my watch at 1:54:07 – almost a full minute inside my target time.

I was emotionally and physically drained as I embraced Jess. I had set myself a goal of completing a half-marathon, and I had met that challenge head on and done better than I could have hoped for. Every training session, every mile, and all those sacrifices melted away as the time and effort I invested paled in comparison to what I had just achieved. My finishers medal is proudly displayed at home, and serves as a constant reminder to me of what I can do when I set my mind to it.

Race Day Routine

race_day_routine_001Every runner has their own race day routine – a very personal, but essential process of preparing for a run that they have developed over a long period of time. Like most runners, I learned over time how to best prepare for a race. For my first race, I arrived at the start late and barely had time to register and warm up before the starters gun sounded. These days, I plan ahead and leave enough time to get the start and stretch.

For my second race, I forgot my running socks and ended the race with some serious chaffing on my undercarriage. After months of training and numerous different running outfits, I settled on one that I feel most comfortable in and now I set that aside a few days in advance. On race day, I know where my gear is and I know it’s clean – I don’t have to stress over my preparations and I know I will be comfortable during the run.

Some runners suffer from chub rub, the result of the thighs rubbing against each other throughout a long run. I use compression shorts to avoid that unpleasant experience, but that has actually led to another problem. Chaffing on that part of the undercarriage between the front plumbing and the back plumbing. The first time it happened to me I didn’t notice until I got home and stood under a hot shower – the stinging pain shot through me like a hot knife and it was quite painful to sit for a couple of hours. Vaseline has become an essential part of my running kit now, and before a long run of competitive race I rub a generous amount in that area to help keep my sensitive regions in good shape.

One of my most challenging aspects of the race day routine is ensuring regularity and managing my bowel movements. Sure, it’s not a glamorous topic and one that many people will avoid talking about – but a friend and I happened to get into it recently when we both had similar experiences of running with a full load. It seems like there’s no single way to ensure the timing of a bathroom visit pre-race, but there are common runners tricks that you can try. For instance, I am now in the habit of getting up 90 minutes before a run and drinking a cup of coffee first thing. After 20/30 minutes getting ready, I am ready to visit the bathroom. I also drink a lot of water the night before, and again during the night when I wake up and have to pee. The regular hydration encourages bowel movements. In addition, I have started using pepto-bismol or tums to settle my stomach and avoid a bathroom break during the race.

One last thing … two Aleve before I leave my place helps to keep the knee pains at bay.

Half-Marathon Training: Week Eleven

nyc_half_w11It’s really hard to believe how fast the time has gone by, but here I am in the second to last week of the training plan. So far, I have managed to stick pretty well to the program, only skipping out on two sessions – although I have moved some sessions around to accommodate my schedule and various niggles and strains. Speaking of … following tonight’s resistance training I felt a little tightness in my right quad. Depending on how I feel in the morning, I may switch my moderate paced 5 mile run from Wednesday to Tuesday, and do my speed work on Wednesday evening. Otherwise, the sessions are consist with prior weeks. Thursday is another resistance training day involving stationary bike, weights, and swimming. Saturday is my final long run, a 12 mile trek consisting of two full loops of Central Park. And Sunday is another easy 4 mile run to help warm down and loosen the muscles going in the final stretch.

I have to admit that I have thoroughly enjoyed the last 11 weeks. I have more energy throughout the day and feel a lot better about myself. I also have a lot more confidence in my ability to complete a long run – far more than I did when I first set out on this journey. Even now, the thought of running a marathon is less daunting than it might have been three months ago when the idea first took root. The two most important things I have learned over these 11 weeks are preparation and balance. Preparing properly, building up over time to the race distance and keeping to an appropriate pace will help me get the results I want without risking injury. Jess has also taught me the importance of balancing my running with other activities. She has been very patient throughout the program, and I hope that I have become a little more flexible now than in the beginning.

Unhappy Feet

unhappy_feet_001This is what happens when I try to break in a new pair of running shoes that I bought without proper research. It’s actually not so bad, but it’s a lesson in how to avoid changing gear without getting the right help first. I have been using the same pair of sneakers for the last 4-5 months – Brooks Defyance 4. They are the most comfortable sneakers I have had and provide just the right amount of support for a moderate over-pronator like myself. I got them late last year when I visited the Jack Rabbit on Lex & 85th. One of the sales people helped me with an assessment of my gait and based on what we saw on the video replay, recommended the shoes. I have been extremely happy with them, but they’re almost at the end of their useful life. With only two weeks to race day, I mistakenly thought it would be a good time to break in a new pair. Stupidly, I bought these new sneakers based on the online description only and this is the result.

I’ll return the sneakers, but in the meantime I hit up the Brooks website and got two pairs of the Defyance 4 (soon to be out of stock and replaced by the 5th generation shoe). I definitely dodged a bullet with this one – things could have been a lot worse. But I also learned two important lessons:

  1. I will never try to change running gear right before a race. In future I will plan to break in a new pair at least six to eight weeks in advance of a big event.
  2. When buying new shoes, I will do lots of research and get a professional opinion. A good pair of shoes can make the world of difference.

Half-Marathon Training: Week Ten

nyc_half_w10Entering the third to last week of the training plan, my body has recovered from the pains of a ten mile run and the skiing trip. This week I plan to get back on track with my program as I look to the half-marathon in three weeks. Monday will revert to a rest day, with 5 mile paced runs on Tuesday and Wednesday. I have swimming and weights on Thursday, followed by two runs over the weekend. One 4 mile route and a an 11 mile run to continue building my stamina and familiarity with the half-marathon distance.

Piste Off

piste_off_001Evidently I was not born to travel down a mountain at 60 miles per hour on two fiberglass blades. The weekend itself was a great getaway – lots of relaxation time and a good chance to spend quality time with Jess. We got there late Friday night and settled into our room, with thoughts of the next mornings breakfast.

The following day we rented our gear just down the street from the B&B and took to the slopes. Starting with a relatively easy run, it was immediately clear that I had overestimated my abilities. I spend equal amounts of time on the skis and on my butt, having extreme difficulty in mastering two essential maneuvers; turning and stopping. Jess, on the other hand, had no problems and gracefully made her way down the mountain, stopping occasionally to peer back at me as I came crashing down to the snow and ice yet again. We moved to the beginner slope where the gradient was pretty easy and I managed to stay upright for a few runs. After lunch, we ventured to another easy run only to be ambushed by a blizzard as we were traveling up on the ski lift. At the top the snow and clouds were thick, but I gutted it out and managed to get in a few runs before the old habits returned. At one point the ski patrol had to shoe me like a horse to clear the ice from my boot and the gentleman, although patient, was clearly annoyed that I was on such a large slope with little or no skills. All would be solved a few minutes later, as my increasingly violent falls took their toll and tore the binding from my ski.

Later that evening we enjoyed a very good Italian dinner in town and returned home the next day. Although I took my share of bumps and bruises, the weekend was thoroughly enjoyable and a welcome break from the rigors of my training program.

Half-Marathon Training: Week Nine

nyc_half_w9It’s week nine and I am into the final stretch. The big run this weekend is eight miles, a drop in workload from the previous two weeks but the rest of the activities follow the same pattern. My training plan suggests some speed work consisting of 9 x 400 meter sprints on Tuesday, followed by a typical 5 mile effort on Wednesday. I will continue my light workloads on Monday and Thursday, combining 15 minutes on the stationary bike with some weights and swimming. Saturday is going to be a short paced run, around 4 miles.

However, Jess and I have plans to go skiing this weekend and because my quads are still hurting, there are going to be some changes in the order of activities. Instead of taking rest on Friday, I’m going to switch that to Monday. The extra day will help me recover quicker and hopefully allow me to get back up and running on Tuesday. We’re leaving for the ski resort on Friday night, so I’ll run earlier in the day and skip the long run on Saturday. This means I should be able to squeeze in the short paced run on Sunday evening. I know it’s not ideal to skip a long run at this late stage, but the problems with my quads has me worried and I want to give my legs plenty of recovery time.

Double Figures

double_figures_001Earlier today I completed the longest run of the training program so far, and the longest I have every undertaken. The ten mile route was made up one full lap of Central Park, and a second, shortened lap between the 102nd St transverse and terrace drive. I wasn’t too worried about this run given that I had completed a 9 mile route the previous week and the course avoided the Harlem Hill. The additional mile on top of last week’s effort did not significantly alter the workload.

The run itself was uneventful. I felt fine through the first lap, but the second time around felt some discomfort as I started the triple threat down the West side. I stopped to walk for a minute at the crest of the first hill, and started up running again after the feeling subsided. For the rest of the route everything felt good and as I eased up around the Guggenheim I actually felt like I could go another mile or two.

Thankfully I didn’t. Shortly after completing the run my quads started to feel like they were on fire. Hours later and I’m still feeling pain in both legs. I can’t figure out why all of a sudden I am feeling like this. I stuck to my training plan all week, and did nothing strange this morning prior to the run. I also hydrated as much as previous runs. I’m kind of lost, but I’ll keep an eye on things over the coming days and see how my recovery goes. I also think getting a good race-day routine down will help me avoid problems in the future.

Strength Training

strength_training_001Strength training is not a typical component of a runner’s training program, but for a beginner it offers certain advantages. Before I started running I had a very sedentary lifestyle and as a result, my muscle tone and mass was pretty much non-existent. Although running requires a lot of leg muscle, the runner also needs a good level of upper and lower back strength. For that reason, I felt it necessary to add a strength component to my training program on the two lighter non-running days. I took my time figuring out the machines in my gym and eventually determined the weight work that would provide the greatest benefit while limiting the risk of injury and over-training. What follows is an outline of my full strength circuit. Depending on the day, how I feel, and available time, I will modify the routine by dropping one or more station as needed. I never decrease the weight, repetition, or set numbers – in fact, every two weeks I increase one; the weights by 10 lbs or the repetitions by 2 on each set.
# Station Set / Reps / Lbs Muscle(s)
1 Lat Pull 1 / 12 / 70
2 / 12 / 80
3 / 10 / 90
Lats
Biceps
Delts
Trapezius
2 Bicep Pull 1 / 12 / 70
2 / 12 / 80
3 / 10 / 90
Biceps
Lats
Delts
Trapezius
3 Leg Extension 1 / 12 / 50
2 / 12 / 60
3 / 10 / 70
Quads
Calfs
4 Leg Curl 1 / 12 / 50
2 / 12 / 60
3 / 10 / 70
Hamstrings
Gluteus Maximus
5 Arm Curl 1 / 12 / 30
2 / 12 / 40
3 / 10 / 50
Biceps
6 Upper Back 1 / 12 / 50
2 / 12 / 60
3 / 10 / 70
Delts
Trapezius
Rhomboideus
Biceps
7 Abductor 1 / 12 / 60
2 / 12 / 70
3 / 10 / 80
Abductors
Gluts
8 Adductor 1 / 12 / 60
2 / 12 / 70
3 / 10 / 80
Adductors
Gluts
9 Low Row 1 / 12 / 70
2 / 12 / 80
3 / 10 / 90
Delts
Trapezius
Rhomboideus
Biceps
10 Chest Press 1 / 12 / 50
2 / 12 / 60
3 / 10 / 70
Pecs
Delts
Trapezius
Biceps
11 Leg Press 1 / 12 / 80
2 / 12 / 100
3 / 10 / 120
Quads
Gluts
Hamstrings
12 Shoulder Press 1 / 12 / 40
2 / 12 / 50
3 / 10 / 60
Delts
Trapezius
Triceps
13 Ab Crunches 1 / 25 / 20
2 / 25 / 20
3 / 25 / 20
Abs